January 3, 2016

China's second aircraft carrier, part of an arms race

 China's announced 2 days ago that it is building a second aircraft carrier, This carrier will have a ski-jump carrier like Chinas first carrier (Liaoning) and will weigh in the 50,000 ton class (like Liaoning).

Liaoning itself is classed as a training and testing ship. The second carrier is likely to have a more active, operational, function.
China is quickly constructing at least 3 stationary (island) "aircraft carrier"/naval bases in the South China Sea (mainly on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs) China is constructing mobile aircraft carriers more gradually. China's carrier program is partly in response to a low level carrier arms race in the Asia-Pacific region.

The low level regional carrier arms race involves several countries. The US Navy has superior, developed, 100,000 ton, nuclear propelled, carriers that China cannot match for the short-medium term. But as the US Navy has world-wide responsibilities it may only be able to spare 2 carriers for any crisis in China's northeast Asian region. Such a US force may not have a decisive advantage over Chinese carrier, island based and Chinese mainland based air forces. The US is also concerned about increasing numbers of Chinese land based anti-ship cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

China's involvement in the carrier arms race is more immediately to equal or match carrier forces of regional powers. These powers include:

-  India with two carriers (INS Vikramaditya and under construction the first of the new Vikrant class)

-  Japan, which has 2 carrier like Izumo class helicopter -"destroyers". With ski-jump modifications the Izumos or a future class may be able to accommodate short takeoff and vertical landing F-35Bs.

-  Australia - significantly its 2 Canberra class landing helicopter docks have ski-jump bows that may facilitate F-35B operations. Clearly the ski-jumps were incorporated into the Canberra designs to give the option (with modifications) to handle any future Australian F-35B's or US F-35Bs or AV-8B Harriers.

Possibly owing to military intelligence tipoffs overt analytical publications became aware of the possible second carrier construction in China's Dalian Shipyard in September 2015. These publications made very accurate predictions (that the second carrier will be a ski-jump carrier like the first (Liaoning) in the 50,000 ton class) in line with China's announcement 2 days ago.

IHS Janes Article

IHS Janes, September 26, 2015 acquired this photo of Dalian shipyard work above. IHS Janes has commented:

"Until it becomes clear whether an angled flight deck is to be installed, it remains possible that the vessel could be either a carrier (CV) or an assault ship (LHA), as a large hangar and flight deck would be a feature of both."

 Airbus Defence and Space acquired some imagery (see yellow rectangle satellite image at top) around September 22, 2015.

Based on the image within the yellow rectangle and other material IHS Janes, September 28, 2015 analysed/predicted:

"An unidentified hull in an advanced state of construction…China's first indigenous aircraft carrier.
While a conclusive identification of the hull as an aircraft carrier cannot be made until work is observed on the upper decks and potential flight deck, the slow pace of assembly and outline suggests a military hull under construction...beam of about 35 meters. The incomplete bow suggests a length of at least 270 meters for the completed hull."


35m and 270m coincides closely with China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning's beam and length at the waterline (w/l). This suggest the second carrier may be the same class as Liaoning.  Under the Rule of Thirds (third of the carrier force ready for operations) a third Chinese ski-jump carrier may be constructed, perhaps around 2020.

It seems that Chinese Government could not or chose not to hide the second carrier under construction. Likewise China cannot hide construction of the 3 stationary island "aircraft carriers" in the South China Sea. This overt show of growing military capability might be seen as a Chinese challenge to the US dominated alliance system (of US alliances with Southeast Asian nations, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and South Korea). China may be right in calculating that the US alliance can effectively do little about China's rising strength.

It may be that the recent downturn in Chinese economic growth may adversely effect China's naval (including carrier) building program. But China's economic growth and national military objectives are hard to predict.



MHalblaub said...

Happy New Year,

and do not fear Chinese aircraft carrier. An aircraft carrier is only a valid weapon against third rate military.

After the sinking of ARA General Belgrano the Argentine aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (May 25th) vanished from the scene. The British were very luky that Argentinia did not hunt the British carriers with their submarines.

To conquer such a threat Australia needs many submarines and not a few big ones. Remember the small Russian fleet and nothing Australian available nearby?


Anonymous said...

Liaoning is not threat but an ideal target ship, because it does not have catapult, its anti-submarine capability is very low and its size is large.

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

Happy New Year.

Certainly aircraft carriers are at a disadvantage in a fleet to fleet OR submarine to carrier actions.

I see the real value of carriers as mobile air bases in counter-insurgencies or conventional wars and ship visits to small developing nations.

US carriers and Frances Charles de Gaulle are proving useful against ISIS (Iraq and Syria) broader Middle East and North Africa. The new UK carriers will also be used for same uses and eventually Russian and Chinese carriers.

China carriers are indeed too vulnerable in Western Pacific, South and East China Seas. More useful in Indian Ocean in action and ship visits to Myanmar, small islands nations (Mauritus, Seychelles, East Africa.

Expect Chinese carrier visits also to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Myanmar, Thailand for power projection (strategic diplomacy).

Australia's 4,000 ton sub plans seems to be the unhappy midpoint between small 2,000 ton 214-218 subs and advantages of small (5,000 ton) SSNs.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [Jan 5, 12:11AM]

Ceartainly Chinese carriers are vulnerable and bottled up by US and Japanese air and missile forces in West pacific, South and East China Seas.

Chinese carriers may have the better uses I suggested to MHalblaub.

I'd say China will build a third ski-jump carriers, workout doctrine-uses then build three 85,000 ton catapult carriers in the mid-late 2020s. 85,000 ton being a more efficient air group size that can include F/A, ASW, refuelers and AWACs.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

I think that Soryu submarine is a bit too big and smaller 3000-3500tonne class submarine is suitable for complex submarine topography of Japan. I think that sixteen 212A submarines modified with LIBs and methanol reforming fuel cells are better option than eight-twelve 216 submarines. The 212A pressure hull is made of austenite stainless steel with optimal composition for achieving non-magnetism, it may be expensive but not be decisively expensive.

Having carriers may satisfy face of China as a great power, but it is quite expensive in operation/maintenance and needs many escort ships. Heavy weight US carriers are enough for both Australia and Japan. As complementary or junior allies of US, the two countries should concentrate to maintain defense system by well-equipped submarines and hunter killers.

By the way, according to naming instruction for Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ship, Izumo and Kaga are helicopter defense destroyers (DDHs), but they are actually helicopter carriers rather than DDHs. These two carriers should be used mainly for disaster-relief of Japan and other countries.


Peter Coates said...

Hi "S"

I'm somewhat surprised (even non-plussed) that you (with all your Japanese military-industrial connections) would be putting forward a German solution (eg. 212A) for Australia's submarine needs. Tis MHalblaub who might have commented similarly.

I don't think Australia would value AIP (like methanol reforming fuel cells) due to the low electrical output for our (high electrical demand) compulsory AN/BYG-1 combat system. It is notable that there was no fitting or retrofitting of AIP to the Collins, which shares the same American combat system.

Like Japan I think China will more value Liaoning and second carrier for prestige, ship visits and use helicopters for disaster relief and ASW. Japan's Izumo and Kaga may be more similar to new USS America's airwing helicopters and Osprey capable https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_America_(LHA-6) rather than a jet carrier attempt.